Do You Want the Government To Design Your iPad?

An iPad is something that shouldn’t exist. By touching its screen, a user can access billions upon billions of collections of information displayed in crisp, vibrant color with nary a cord in sight. What sort of magic results in such a wonder?

We know, of course, that there is no magic involved, at least not the kind that involves puffs of smoke and incantations. The iPad, along with millions of other technological accomplishments, came from the minds of talented and dedicated people. It is the result of free people, privately employed and massively motivated. What arrangement could possible top that?

The answer is “none,” but the government, that bastion of justice, fairness, and know-it-all-ness has decided it knows better than Apple how to design a tablet interface. At issue is a feature with which most of us are familiar. When making online purchases, one need not enter a password every single time a purchase is made. The password permission stays on for a time–usually 15 minutes or so. Some Apple users complained that their children had been able to make purchases within that time window without parental consent. Apple contacted every one and offered a refund.

Eddie Murphy new sheriff in town

That was not good enough for the FTC, which laid out design parameters for the next twenty years. This without, as far as we know, a single qualification among the agency’s commissioners to design computer interfaces.

This is not the first time our government has attacked success. Some of us recall them gnawing at the ankle of Bill Gates when Microsoft was changing the world for the good. Or the NLRB trying to tell Boeing where to locates its new plants. Or CAFE standards resulting in more expensive and less safe cars. Let no good deed go unpunished.

Good design results from bad design modified with experience. The first model of virtually anything is less than perfect. Succeeding models require feedback, but only a certain kind of feedback works. When customers find that their children buy stuff they aren’t supposed to, they either teach the kids (by making them do chores to pay off the bill) or if the offense is great enough they complain to the company from which they purchased it. Likewise for literally millions of design features. The market is the perfect mechanism for finding out what features most people want and how much they are willing to pay for it.

When government is the feedback provider, a small panel of people who may have little to no actual experience with the product decide what is best for the millions who do use it. Is this the way we want our computers to be designed? Our cars? Our educational system?

Government wants to control everything because that is how people in government get paid. The less they control, the less they are needed and the more they are required to do honest work. For every economic initiative, there are now thousands of people appointed by politicians to screw it up. This is the end game of government now–control without purpose and arrogance in spades.

While I understand Apple’s decision to settle the case, I am disappointed. Only when victim’s of regulatory overreach start to fight back will agencies retreat from their destructive offensive against economic freedom.

In the move 48 Hours, Eddie Murphy plays a convicted con man sprung from jail to help Nick Nolte’s character catch a crook. One scene has Murphy trying to get information in a redneck bar. Finding himself the object of derision, he hurls a glass through the bar mirror. They start listening. It’s about time companies like Apple threw a glass.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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